Remembering the Forgotten Riots


(Photo by : Stefan Magdalinski)

In the city of Jakarta, Indonesia, there are two racial groups – native Indonesians and the Chinese-Indonesians. There was a dark period of time in every Indonesian-Chinese’s history that went unrecorded in history books. It was the 1998 riot.

When I found out about the riot, I was in Melbourne on a family trip without my father. The news station in Melbourne aired the horrific scenes that were happening back home. Buildings were being burned, corpses lay on the ground and victims were brutally injured. Everything back home looked like it came from a war scene in a movie.

Growing up in Jakarta, I have never experienced any form of discrimination, or at least that was what I thought. I am ethnic Chinese. This minority group is known as the “upper class” in the social hierarchy in Indonesia. This is because the Chinese Indonesians dominated a large portion of the commercial activities.

Though news of this riot was aired all over the world, it was not greatly covered by the news back home in Indonesia. Therefore we have no accurate number of how many had passed away, were injured, or were raped during the riot. It was referred as a modern holocaust to many who had experienced it, and it was a dark phase and a sensitive topic for us Indonesian Chinese that is not often discussed anymore.

I was never directly taught to discriminate against anyone, nor have I been taught to treat anyone differently because of the color of their skin. I have never had any racist remarks directed at me personally. I was never told what exactly happened in that time period or how severely my family was affected. My parents never told me this because they did not want me to blame our part of history on the native Indonesians.

However, as I grow older and try to discover my own identity, I feel like questions of my ethnic background have not been answered to this very day. I could not understand what had happened that led to the division of my own city, my home. There has always been tension between the native Indonesians and us. I felt that part of the history of my racial background has not been acknowledged. Was it because we weren’t considered a true Indonesian?

I hold an Indonesian passport. I identify myself as an Indonesian, just like every other Indonesian citizen holding the passports from the same country. But why is it that division has to occur between two different races living in the same country, for people holding passports from the same country? I feel as Indonesian as any native Indonesian. I speak Bahasa, the Indonesian language, fluently. I enjoy and eat the Indonesian cuisine, and I consider Jakarta my home. But  I feel that I would never be seen as an Indonesian to the native Indonesian. Is there really no place for a Chinese in Indonesia – even one who is culturally raised as an Indonesian?

So, what should I consider myself to be? An Indonesian in the Chinese community or a Chinese in the Indonesian community? No, I am just an Indonesian, 12,000 miles away from home.


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